Monday, 5 September 2011

Countdown to Consistency

I have a Countdown Teapot.  For those who don't know it (you fools! or sensible people for having proper jobs and not wasting time watching daytime TV) Countdown is a words and numbers game on Channel 4 at 3.10pm.  A few years ago I auditioned for it, along with my friend Caroline.  

The audition process roughly followed the game, but with 10 people playing each time.  We were given 9 letters and had to find a word containing the most letters in the next 30 seconds.  Ready? The first set of letters were: TICPAETOT. Tick tick tick...

30 seconds later we went round the table each saying our highest scoring word.  My heart was pounding as I declared a 9 letter word.  I was so excited I felt sick, especially as no one else declared a 9.  There was so much adrenaline flowing in my system that I genuinely thought I might have heart failure as I said "petticoat".  

And that was my high point.  My brain was completely scrambled by my initial success and I couldn't focus on anything.  I failed the audition, as did Caroline.  But you were allowed 3 goes at auditioning.  We went again and the same thing happened.  One high score, then nothing.  This time Caroline got through.  She went on the programme, and won her teapot.  I wasn't going to bother to try again (and really, was my heart going to take the strain?) but in the end I did apply.  

By the  time my third and final audition came up a lot had changed in my life and I wasn't watching Countdown as much so I wasn't as worked up about it.  Also Caroline had worked out the secret to passing the audition.  She told me that they were looking for someone who was consistent and therefore wouldn't be embarrassing on the programme.   It was better to always score a 7 or a 6 than get a wide range of 9s and 5s even though the average might be the same.

Reader, I won it. I succeeded in the audition by aiming for 7 letter words not 9 letter ones, went on the programme and won a teapot.  

And the point of all this rambling is that consistency is important also in writing.  It's no good having flashes of brilliance if there are also chunks of lumpen prose.  In fact, if anything it's worse because the flashes of brilliance highlight just how chunky and lumpen the rest is.  All the writing needs to be of the same standard, which obviously should be as high as you can make it.  

So, if you know that dialogue is your weak point, then you have to try to improve it. If feedback tells you your problem is in too much description then you have to learn to wield the axe. Page 1 should be as good as page 5, or page 55.  Or, to extend the metaphor to another TV gameshow, your writing is only as good as The Weakest Link.  


Mama J said...

Me and my best friend used to 'play' Countdown after school when we were about 15. Can you tell we weren't the popular girls at school?

On another note, I am here to spread the blogging love with an award for you here:

Sarah Duncan said...

You'd have been popular with me! Thanks for the blog award; I'll do the stuff next week if that's OK- I'm a bit snowed under right now.